Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Okay, Bush, enough with the politics. Let's get serious for a change. Let's talk about a movie, as I had planned to do yesterday before you started in on your press conference. I'm talking about "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"--a film directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. I thought it was outstanding, and wanted to suggest you spend a couple of hours with it in your White House screening room. I promise you, your time will be well spent.

It's a movie about crime, punishment and forgiveness--or about sin, ordeal and redemption, whichever way you want to look at it. It's about a Texan cowboy who hires an illegal from across the border and about the bond the two men develop, simply as men: forget the differences of race, language and national identity, this is about a deep friendship that transcends those superficalities and goes, instead, to the heart. It's about love, respect, and trust between two simple men who don't need much in their lives beyond a job of work to do and a sense of honor in the doing of it.

Then a man is killed by a young border patrol officer who's goofing of in the scrub brush, about to jerk off over a Hustler magazine when he hears shots. Turns out it's Melquiades, our Mexican friend, shooting at a coyote that's after his goats, not threatening anyone--but this border patrol guy shoots him with a high-powered rifle anyway, out of boredom, out of callous indifference, out of dominance, out of racism, out of fear... you name it.

Well Pete, our Mexican cowboy's friend, discovers who is responsible and understands that no one will hold the shooter accountable unless he does it himself. Thus starts the interminable and hazardous journey to the place where Melquiades said he wanted to be buried (the first two burials of the title, Bush, were hasty affairs without respect or ritual). Through thick and thin--but mostly thick and nasty--Pete leads his prisoner toward an unwanted but necessary redemption in the Mexican desert. On the way, the young man learns uncomfortable truths about himself, particularly his cold, even brutal indifference not only toward the illegals he's supposed to keep out of this country, but to all those around him, including his pretty wife. He learns, slowly and with extreme pain, that he too has a heart, and that he has neutralized it at his cost.

The grizzled Pete remains pitiless until the very end. His intention is to bury his friend in the place Melquiades yearned for in his heart, and nothing will distract him from that purpose. The man is honor personified. He wears his soul as well as his heart on his sleeve. What he performs, through that enforced journey, is the initiation the younger man never had--the initiation into manhood that every society before our own Western civilization deemed essential, and which our own contemporary world neglects with disastrous results: we raise not men, but boy-men, destructive, aggressive, out of touch with that one part of themselves that can make them truly men--the heart. The pattern of descent, ordeal and return is common to initiation rituals throughout the world, and it is re-enacted here with powerful intention. At the end, the younger man has earned the gift that Pete bestows on him in calling him, for the first time, in a truly moving moment,"son".

The reason I bring this up, Bush, is not only that I myself was moved by the film, but also because I think it has something important to say about the way men all too often act in the world today. Out of insecurity about our manhood and some deep, often unconscious need to prove it, we fight, we drink, we womanize, we work ourselves literally to death... some of us even go into politics and lead others into war. Take your nemesis, Bin Laden: how much is his behavior conditioned by the traditions of a society in which men so fear the power of the feminine that they see fit to keep their women in subservience, and whose laws permit the killing or maiming of those who threaten their male hegemony?

And let's not congratulate ourselves too heartily, Bush, on our enlightenment in the West. We have only to look at our cities' gangs, our prisons filled with immature and violent criminals, our corporate and law offices with their ethos of cutthroat competition, our seats of government occupied by hard-hearted, ruthless men addicted to power and money. We too have something to learn from this film, because there is too much of ourselves in that young man's insecurities, his indifference to others and to the care of his own soul. We all could use a Pete to bring us face to face with our own deeper nature and, after looking in that mirror, to become better men for the experience.

Take a look at this film, Bush. You won't regret it. It's about you. And me.


Fred said...

Great summary and analysis of "Three Burials", Peter. It is a truly wise and powerful film for those with the hearts to understand it.

I will be gone for several days to a family gathering in my native Kansas. If I escape burning at the stake there in Red-State Central, I will catch up on the diary on my return.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, Fred. Have a great trip--and hone your survival skills! Best, Peter